The Underdog Again

by Billy Weaver

Good news and bad news as the Pirates head to Tulsa this weekend. The bad news is that East Carolina is a nine-and-a-half point underdog. The good news is that ECU always seems to play better as a "dog" and the Pirates have only not covered the spread twice this season.

There's a good reason the Golden Hurricane is a heavy favorite. Aside from the fact that Tulsa is 4-2 this season against conference opponents, they feature one of the best defenses in the country. After nine games the Tulsa defense ranks among the nation's leaders in a number of categories. They rank 10th in passing defense allowing 172.4 yards per game, ninth in pass defense efficiency, sixth in interceptions with 15 picks this season and sixth in the nation in turnovers gained with 25, including 15 interceptions and 10 fumble recoveries. That means if the Pirates come anywhere close to turning the ball over like they did against Central Florida or Southern Miss you can  kiss a winning season goodbye.

When you break down Tulsa on film you have to take a hard look at their offense. The Golden Hurricane averages just over 30 points a game behind a very balanced attack. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Paul Smith has a completion rating of 61.2 percent which is almost unheard of. He's thrown for nearly 2000 yards and 12 touchdowns this season  and he has the luxury of throwing to arguably the best tight end in college football. Garrett Mills leads the nation with 62 receptions for 816 yards and seven touchdowns. When I talked to ECU head coach Skip Holtz  earlier this week, he said Mills is a big version of Aundrae Allison. That's scary!

Speaking of scary, that's exactly what Tulsa kick returner Ashlan Davis is to opposing teams. The senior tied the NCAA record for kickoff returns for touchdowns in a career which has stood for over 30 years. He recorded his 6th career touchdown on a kickoff return when he torched Rice with a 96-yarder earlier this year. Fortunately ECU's Ryan Dougherty has been sailing kicks out of the end zone with consistency so I'm confident Davis won't be "the guy" to beat the Pirates on Saturday. Pray for little wind.

While Tulsa looks to be a sure winner on paper, rest assured this game will be very competitive. With a week off to correct a few critical mistakes and heal up some bumps and bruises, the Pirates will be ready. If East Carolina can eliminate mistakes and put all three phases of the game together (which we still haven't seen this season) the Pirates will beat Tulsa and have a great shot at running the table toward a winning season.

Billy Weaver